Stock Indexes Modestly Lower

Stock indexes were lower in early trading Monday amid a decline in oil prices and a decline in the US labor market conditions index.

Oil prices declined amid increased exports from Iran and expanded drilling activities in North America. West Texas Intermediate crude, the US standard, and Brent futures, the global benchmark, both declined 2.5%.

Oil researcher Baker Hughes (BHI) said the number of rigs rose for a 10th straight week to 529, the highest since January 2015. The average US rig count for December was 634, up by 54 from 580 in November but down by 80 from 714 counted in December 2015. The average Canadian rig count for December was 209, up 36 from 173 in November, and up 49 from 160 in December 2015.

In economic news, the December Labor Market Conditions Index fell to a reading of 1.2 from the prior mark of 1.5. In equities, Merrimack Pharmaceuticals (MACK) shares jumped after the company said it would sell assets worht more than a billion dollars. Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) shares fell almost 1% after it said it would invest $1 billion to expand US manufacturing capacity.

By Fred Canto